New Home Inspector Licensing Requirements for Washington State

On September 1, 2009, the first phase of the Washington State mandatory home inspector licensing program began. This is a major change to the home inspection industry in Washington, and a much needed measure of consumer protection for this critical piece of the home buying process. One of our favorite home inspectors, Bruce “MacK” MacKintosh of Centennial Home Inspection Services, is the Chairman of the Washington State Home Inspector Advisory Licensing Board , which was in charge of developing a statewide Standards of Practice, and approving education providers and testing requirements now required for home inspectors. MacK has owned his business for over 21 years and has completed over 7000 home inspections in the Puget Sound area. I sat down at a recent inspection to interview MacK about these changes and how they will affect the home buying consumer. Bruce MacKintosh

Kevin: What are the new licensing requirements for home inspections in the State of Washington?

MacK: Previously there was no licensing requirement for home inspectors in Washington. Now all inspectors will be required to have a license and to get continuing education.  Some of us who have been in the business for awhile are exempt from the initial licensing education requirements, but we all have to pass both the NHIE (National Home Inspector Exam) and a Washington State Home Inspection Test to get our license.  Inspectors that were not “grandfathered” or could not meet the requirements by September 1, 2009, must comply with all of the mandated licensing requirements: 120 hours of classroom education, 40 hours of field training with a licensed inspector, and pass the written exam.  I should also mention the financial hurdle: the first license will cost close to $1000.

Kevin: When do the new licensing requirements take effect?

MacK: Washington passed their home inspector licensing law in March 2008. After working out all of the educational and testing requirements, Washington began requiring the “grandfathered” group to be licensed on September 1, 2009. The licensing requirement actually phases in over the next 10 months, depending on an inspector’s level of experience. Experienced inspectors with 100+ inspections and 2+ years of experience only need to pass the written exam to become licensed. Newer inspectors with less than 2 years in the profession and fewer than 100 home inspections have until July 1, 2010 to take the required education and training, plus pass the written exam. Very new inspectors who haven’t actively performed home inspections before June 12, 2008, when the law was enacted, must cease business until they have complied with all of the requirements. They must meet the training and education requirements now, along with passing the written exam.

Kevin: Before this licensing requirement went into effect, what was required to be a home inspector in Washington State?

MacK: You won’t believe it, but all you needed to do was print business cards to be a home inspector! There were no state-mandated educational requirements or standards or practice. I’d say that roughly half of the home inspectors out there were a member of a national association of home inspectors, so they did have some standards of practice to follow, but the other half simply made up their own standards. The new licensing law was put in place to better protect consumers in the home buying process, and should ensure that there is some basic statewide set of professional standards that all home inspectors adhere to.

Kevin: What sort of problems have consumers encountered with home inspectors?

MacK: I think there are three major consumer issues in the home inspection industry. First was the issue of competence. Until now, there was no training required to be a home inspector. Second, there was the absence of standards. Some guys would not go up on roofs, others would not take the cover off electrical panels, etc. And third, there is a need to maintain ethical standards. The new rules that went into effect do a good job of covering the first two issues by testing and the education requirements and by mandating how the various systems and areas in a home need to be inspected. This includes required inspections of the “not so fun” areas like crawl spaces, attics and the roof, provided that they are accessible and safe. The ethics issue is harder to legislate, but probably more critical for an objective home inspection. There is a category of inspectors often referred to as “sugar-coat” inspectors. They are called that because they “sugar-coat” major deficiencies in a home to make sure that the sale still goes through. Reaching closing is seen as the goal. Right or wrong, there is a fear amongst these inspectors that if they deliver a critical inspection report, they will lose the referral business and won’t receive future business from that referring source. Clearly this is an unethical approach to a home inspection. Our only client is the buyer, and we are paid by them to protect their interests. We are paid to evaluate a home in an objective and essentially unbiased manner. If we have any bias it should be towards the buyer. Obviously, by glossing over major deficiencies, we are not performing the task we were hired to do, and clearly are not acting in the best interests of the home buyer.

Kevin: You are the Chair of the Home Inspectors Board? What does this Board do and how were you appointed?

MacK: When the law was being written, one of the most important components of the new law was the make-up of the Home Inspectors Board. Most of the industry was in favor of the law only if the Board was made up of practicing experienced home inspectors. Governor Gregoire appointed seven home inspectors to the board, tasking us to help develop a set of consumer protection home inspection rules along with the new education and testing requirements.  The Board is comprised of inspectors from various regions of the state, and all must have a minimum of 5 years experience in Washington, along with 500+ home inspections under their belt. I made the mistake of leaving the room to get a cup of coffee at the first meeting and my fellow Board members elected me chair, possibly out of respect – or disrespect – for my advanced age. Actually, I have been involved in the process since licensing was first introduced in the legislature in 1996, when a review determined that licensing was not necessary at that time. Most of us do feel strongly about raising the professional standards in our industry, and in spite of the politics involved, I think we did end up with one of the best license laws in the country. It will no doubt require some fine tuning over the next couple of years. I should point out that we do have a ton of help from Rhonda and Jerry  in Department of Licensing to make this all happen. We would be nowhere without them.

Kevin: As a home buyer, should I insist that my home inspector is licensed?

MacK: As I said before, there are some inspectors where the requirement for a license doesn’t take effect until July 2010, and there may be some very qualified home inspectors who missed the September 1 deadline for legitimate reasons. However, it would certainly be prudent to ask about license status w
hen you hire an inspector. I think the most diligent inspectors will take the law seriously and get licensed as soon as they can. Just because the deadline isn’t until 2010 doesn’t mean they have to wait until then. To date, 313 home inspectors are now licensed to work in Washington State. You can search for licensed inspectors on the Department of Licensing website.